13 May 2020

LOCKDOWN! – DRIVER FITNESS DURING THE EXTENDED OFF-SEASON

So, it’s the end of the season and as a Formula 1 driver whose just completed a gruelling season, you’re rightly looking forward to some well-earned “RnR” with sun, great food that’s not on your trainers regular menu, and perhaps even a glass or two of your favourite liquid refreshment. However, once the batteries have been recharged, it’s time for less sun and fun, and more Gym and Sim preparing for the next season.

Just like all the team engineers, designers, manufacturing technicians, and pit crews, driver fitness is something that’s got to be worked on diligently over the closed season so that the driver’s body can mirror the improvements to the car’s performance.

It’s fair to say that like most sports there is a certain amount of “match fitness” required that only comes from battling with 19 other drivers while being strapped to a vehicle capable of carrying 5G through corners and over 200mph in a straight line. However, it’s also about being in a state of race preparedness from day one of the first race weekend of the calendar in order to hit those levels during the season.

Long gone are the days where a driver’s first thought after a race was a cheeky cigarette and where physical prowess was measured in their ability to consume large quantities of podium Champagne without embarrassing themselves.

Sports science has become crucial to success in every level of professional sport and the closer an athlete gets to the pinnacle in their sport it’s the small details that make the difference to being on top of the podium, and what the great Ayrton Senna called “…being the first of the ones who lose.”

So just what goes into a driver’s closed season preparation in order to hit their mental and physical peak when the lights go out on the first race of the season?

Personal trainers within Formula 1 are continuously looking to get a driver’s body to a peak level of conditioning, namely strength and stamina, with an ability to focus and recover quickly. The elements that are key to achieving this are diet, physical fitness, and cognitive training.

Each of these components are delicately balanced to ensure a driver’s body is sculpted into the perfect size and shape and is capable of driving at full attack for 2 hours in often stiflingly hot conditions and confined spaces within the cockpit.

DIET

It’s long been established that the some of the key foods that deliver peak performance are carbohydrate-based offering slow energy release. Breakfasts that sustain energy such as porridge and fruit, followed by frequent light meals that maintain energy levels are the order of the day up and down the pitlane.

It’s also important to balance carb intake by introducing proteins. We use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. Along with fat and carbohydrates, protein is a “macronutrient,” so the the body needs relatively large amounts of it to stay at peak fitness.

PHYSICAL TRAINING

Formula 1 drivers during the off season will train twice daily in the gym, in the pool, or out on the road running or cycling. It’s a six days on, one day off routine.

Gym work revolves around a bias towards cardio exercise although weights are also part of the mix, with particular exercise focused on the legs, arms (wrists and shoulders), and neck, Core strength and overall muscle toning are also important. More cardio work in the pool and on the road ensures strong circulation, a healthy heart, and much needed stamina. This tends to be the style of training most drivers enjoy most. During Jenson Button’s F1 career he enjoyed this area of training so much that he went on to form his own triathlon team and now competes regularly in events internationally.

COGNITIVE TRAINING

Cognitive skills are broken down into 8 core capacities.

  • Sustained attention – the basic ability to keep focused, looking, listening, and thinking.
  • Response inhibition – the ability to block out distractions.
  • Speed of information processing – how quickly a driver understands what is going on around them.
  • Cognitive flexibility and control – being able to switch from one thought process to another.
  • Multiple simultaneous attention – multi tasking to us mere mortals.
  • Working memory – remembering instructions and information required to perform tasks.
  • Category formation – compartmentalising and prioritising of information and tasks.
  • Pattern recognition – interpretation of data and prediction of outcomes.

It’s clear from these skills definitions that every one of these capabilities apply to life in general and with a formula 1 driver the ability to apply these skills in a split second is vital.

A driver’s mind must interpret each body sensations as the car changes direction and convert that flood of data at lightening speed into clear instructions to muscles in order to correct understeer, slow the car down under braking, or apply pressure to the throttle to accelerate at the right moment.

Constant practice trains the mind and the body to make these decisions instantaneously, with zero hesitation to the extent that they become second nature almost subconsciously actions. This phenomenon is often labelled as Muscle Memory. This however is something of a misnomer. The memory isn’t stored in muscle but in the brains subconscious as Procedural Memory also known as the memory for skills.

This is an area of training that sometimes gets less attention in the popular press but has an equally important role to play in any driver’s preparation. Never more so than during the off season when the stimulus created driving a F1 car at 200mph isn’t as regular as during the season. We’ll be looking at Cognitive Training in more detail in a future feature and how each skill is employed by the top drivers.

DURING THE COVID-19 LOCKDOWN

So here we are at what would have been a 3rd of the way through the 2020 season and we’re yet to see a wheel turn in anger. For many of us it’s all about self-isolation, working from home, and (let’s be honest) probably a few more glasses of our favourite tipple than we perhaps should admit to!

For the 20 drivers currently forming the grid in 2020 lockdown has become an extended off season and as far as training is concerned its business as usual. The key difference is that without the travelling constantly to different circuits, and unable to fulfil commercial and sponsor obligations, isolation creates more challenges mentally. It’s for this reason that many drivers have looked to fill the time outside their PT regimes getting involved in things such as esports, and other social media activity to keep the mind active.

It’s clear we will learn more over the coming days and weeks as to the scale and to what extent the 2020 Formula 1 season will survive. While drivers work hard to maintain their edge, we are already working on our hospitality packages for 2021, so if you are keen to get trackside in 2021 then please get in touch to discuss our bespoke luxury hospitality packages.

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ianhucklesby

Editor-in-Residence, JDC Promotions Media Centre